self improvement

Letters to Our Children #5: Your Human Capital

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One investment supersedes all others: invest in yourself. Renowned investor Warren Buffett promoted this idea in a 2017 interview. It cannot be taken away, it adjusts for inflation, it helps you have a more interesting life and earn more money.

Interestingly, Buffett’s prime example of this is not an Ivy League education, but a simple public speaking course, one that many thousands of others have also pursued. Early in life he realized a crippling anxiety about public speaking would impair his career. Beginning long ago with the help of Dale Carnegie, he is now at ease in front of tens of thousands of shareholders, high powered interviewers, presidents, other business leaders, or any other situation required of him.

When we invest in our selves, we are seeking to improve our value to others. The more valuable we make ourselves, the more an employer or customer will pay us. The collection of attributes that create this value are called human capital.

Many aspects of human capital are free. Years ago I became acquainted with a senior officer of a large publicly traded company whose most obvious super power is kindness. After he moved on to a leading role elsewhere, people familiar with him always remembered that trademark feature, and how he had helped them in the past, how he made them feel.

Kindness is free. So are dependability, punctuality, being true to your word, enthusiasm, diligence, and all the other traits we seek when we deal with others. Others desire those same traits in us.

Some aspects of human capital require time and money, sometimes lots of both. Think of the education and training required of surgeons, for example. Educational paths and career planning are beyond the scope of this essay, but the value and wisdom of all of your choices ultimately comes down to whether you figure out how to add value to the rest of society.

We have heard the idea of “follow your passion” debated back and forth. Understand the difference between doing what you are passionate about, and being passionate about what you do. One of them has a wider range of opportunity than the other.

The source of our wealth is our earning power, which arises from our human capital. In future letters we will talk about how to manage the fruits of your human capital, but it all starts here.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, or suggest ideas for future letters, please email us or call.

Who Controls Your Destiny?

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“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
-C.S. Lewis

When we came across this quotation from novelist and academic C.S. Lewis, it made us realize one other trait tends to set you, our clients, apart from others. We have long believed you form a niche market of the mind, sharing certain beliefs about investing and life. Our understanding of your uniqueness is deepening as we go along.

Successful planning—our work–requires all of us to believe that we have some control over our outcomes—that we can start where we are and change the ending. But not everyone believes that.

Do people have control over how things turn out, or do external factors, things beyond our control, govern? Psychologists refer to this dimension of personality as the locus of control. We humans vary in this respect.

Much is beyond our control. Accidents happen, markets move randomly in the short run, others sometimes make decisions we do not like. Yet we try to make the most of what we have to work with. We expect that we can make the future better with the actions we take today.

At one extreme, some believe nothing they do can make a difference. If planning is fruitless, we cannot be of service. At the other extreme, some believe that everything can be controlled. This is a problem too—we do not control the stock market!

We are grateful for your balanced outlook: willing to take action to make a better future, knowing that stuff happens, always looking to make the best of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else on your agenda, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

You Can Rig the System, Too

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Politicians are telling us that we would be doing better if the system was fair. “The system is rigged” is a bipartisan theme this season. Through incompetence or malevolence or greed, the powerful few are supposed to be holding us down.

If you know us, you know we don’t spend a lot of time arguing politics. It is no surprise that any human endeavor has room for improvement. More pointedly, there are things about our society that are terribly unfair—including some things that are deeply rooted.

Each of the seven billion of us retain the ability to wake up each day and make the most of what we have to work with. Our resources may be few or many; our challenges may be petty or life-threatening; each one of us has our own story and our own situation. But we can each make the most of what we have to work with, day by day.

In key ways, YOU can rig the system in your favor. This thought was inspired by a list going around the internet, ‘Ten Things That Require Zero Talent.’ We can judge the merits of this list with a simple thought experiment.

Imagine that you are an employer, providing a valuable product or service to the rest of society. Among your employees there are two in particular you are considering for promotion and a good raise. One of them has all ten of these traits, the other has none of them. Here’s the short version of the list:

Being on time; having a good work ethic; putting in the effort, having positive body language; demonstrating energy, attitude and passion; being coachable and prepared.

So as you think about the free items on this list, which employee will you choose to promote? (Please accept our apologies for asking such a silly question with such an obvious answer.) The simple fact is that one employee rigged the system in his favor, and the other did not.

Our point is that each of us has considerable influence on our own destinies. In election season we discuss political and societal issues, we challenge things that need challenging and support things that deserve support. As we do so, let’s remember that our first job is to wake up each day and make the most of what we have to work with.